History of Tyrone Gaelic football

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A house in Strabane decorated in the Tyrone colours prior to the 2008 All-Ireland Football final.

Tyrone has been represented in Gaelic football for nearly a century, but until the mid eighties, the senior team were considered among the weaker teams in Ulster. However, today, Tyrone is considered one of the stronger teams, having won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship three times: in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

Pre-1980s: Slow starts[edit]

Tyrone first won the Ulster Championship in 1956, and defended it in 1957, with a team that included the legendary Iggy Jones and Frankie Donnelly. However, for the vast majority of the 20th Century, Tyrone were considered one the weaker teams in Ulster, which itself was probably considered the weakest province. Cavan had been the dominant force in Ulster right up until the 1960s.

Tyrone didn't win a third Ulster title until 1973.

The Tyrone Minors however won the All-Ireland in 1947, 1948 and 1973. 1973 is remembered because Frank McGuigan, who captained the minor team, was also part of the Under-21 and Senior teams that won their Ulster Championships.

1980s: Hitting new heights[edit]

Tyrone's first successful era came in the mid-eighties with the star-studded team that included players such as Frank McGuigan, Eugene McKenna, Plunkett Donaghy and John Lynch.

In 1980, Kevin McCabe made history as Tyrone's first ever winner of an All Star Award.[1]

In 1984, Tyrone won their fourth Ulster Championship, with Frank McGuigan's display in the Ulster Final against Armagh considered among the finest individual performances ever seen in Gaelic Games. He scored eleven points from open play, five with each foot, and one fisted over. In 2004, his display was voted as one of the Top 20 GAA Moments of the previous forty years (i.e. since the dawn of televised matches). McGuigan won an All-Star that year, as did Eugene McKenna.[1]


In 1986, Tyrone reached their very first All-Ireland Final. However, they were the rank outsiders to beat Kerry, who were going for their third title in a row (and eighth in twelve years). At one stage in the second half, Tyrone had amassed a seven-point lead (a penalty that could have put them nine points ahead was struck over the bar by Kevin McCabe), but two of their leading players on the day, Eugene McKenna, and John Lynch had to be replaced due to injury, and the experience of Kerry shone through, going on to win by 2–15 to 1–10 (21 points to 13).[2] An unprecedented four Tyrone players won All-Star Awards that year, Plunkett Donaghy, John Lynch, Damien O'Hagan and Eugene McKenna won his second.[1]

Tyrone beat Donegal in the replayed 1989 Ulster Final, with Plunkett Donaghy leading the team out that day. Eugene McKenna received his third All Star award that year, making him the leading representative of Tyrone in the All Star stakes.[1]

1990s: Unfulfilled potential[edit]

The Tyrone Seniors went through a relatively dry patch in the early nineties (although the standard of Ulster Football had developed immeasurably – by 1994, three different Ulster teams had won the All-Ireland four times in a row), however the Under 21 team was making waves. Led by Peter Canavan, the under age team reached three All-Ireland Finals, winning two in a row in 1991, and 1992. That team included young players like Adrian Cush, and Jody Gormley.

As that young team graduated to the Senior ranks, they brought their winning ways with them. In 1994, Tyrone reached the Ulster Final, being defeated by eventual All-Ireland winners – who possessed the crux of their 1991 All-Ireland-winning team – Down. Although through this defeat a young talent was emerging, becoming Ulster's top scorer,[3] and duly winning his first All Star – Peter Canavan.[1]


1995 was another huge year for Tyrone. Having defeated Fermanagh in the first round, Tyrone faced 1993 All-Ireland winners, Derry in the Ulster Semi-final. Despite going 0–8 to 0–5 down by half time and having two players sent off, Tyrone rode through the scorching heat and emerged as winners by a point. The match will probably be remembered by outsiders because of the many ugly incidents of fighting between the teams – including a ten-man brawl on the pitch, and Pascal Canavan twice elbowing and twice punching a Derry player, which got him sent off.

In the Ulster Final, Tyrone were playing Cavan, and were probably considered favourites. With the matched poised in the closing stages, Tyrone's two "super-subs", Matt McGleenan and Adrian Cush, teamed up to score the first of Tyrone's two goals. Cush lobbed the ball towards the goal, and McGleenan fisted it into the net. McGleenan became known within Tyrone because of this fisted goal. When Adrian Cush scored the second goal with less than two minutes remaining, the jubilant Tyrone fans (who were already lining the pitch) initiated a premature pitch invasion. However, they quickly broke, avoiding the possibility of the match being abandoned.

In the next game, the All-Ireland Semi-final, Tyrone beat Galway, with Peter Canavan leading the team with a personal tally of 1–07.

In the All-Ireland Final against Dublin, Tyrone took an early lead, just as they had in 1986, but the Dubs fought back, and ended up winning the match by a single point, 1–10 to 0–12. Peter Canavan had scored eleven points that day, but still ended up on the losing side.
Tyrone fans remember the final with bitter taste, due to a few controversial decisions by referee, Paddy Russell. Russell sent Charlie Redmond off, but the player didn't leave the pitch for several minutes, meaning they were fielding an ineligible player, before he was instructed for a second time to leave the field.
Also, with seconds remaining, and Tyrone down by a point, Russell (who was blidsided) adjudged Canavan to have touched the ball in the ground, when he was passing it to team-mate, Sean McLaughlin. McLaughlin put the ball over the bar, but the point was not counted.[4] Despite reaching the All-Ireland Final, only two Tyrone players won All-Stars in 1995, Peter Canavan and Fay Devlin.[1]


In 1996, Tyrone defended their Ulster crown beating Down in a rematch of the 1994 final.

Tyrone met a very physical Meath team in the All-Ireland Semi-final. Having played a competitive and enjoyable first half, the country witnessed the emergence of stars of the future, Brian Dooher, and Gerard Cavlan.

Tyrone fans remember this match because of the perceived "dirty" tactics by Meath. Several of Tyrone's key players sustained injuries during the second half of the match, including Peter Canavan, who subsequently found out he had been playing with a broken foot. Brian Dooher and Cairan McBride both had their heads heavily bandaged during the match (and had to receive staples to close the wounds during half time). The Managers' hands were tied, because they had used up their tally of three substitutions.

Two representatives from Tyrone were in the 1996 All-Star team, Finbar McConnell, and Peter Canavan, with his third in a row, matched Eugene McKenna's personal tally.[1]

Tyrone's management team of Eugene McKenna and Art McRory stepped down after this defeat, and Danny Ball took over the reins. While under Ball's stewardship, Tyrone didn't reach another Senior Ulster final.

In 1998, the Tyrone Minors won the All-Ireland final for the first time in fifteen years, with a team that included such future stars as Cormac McAnallen, Stephen O'Neill, Ryan McMenamin. This victory was particularly note-worthy because of the death of Paul McGirr in a match against Armagh the previous year.[5][6]

2000s: Triumph at last[edit]

The 2000s have easily been the most successful period for Tyrone's footballers. The decade started with their second back-to-back All-Ireland Under-21 titles, this time captained by Cormac McAnallen. McAnallen became only the second person to do this, after Peter Canavan. Tyrone Minors also showed their mettle in 2001, with an All-Ireland-winning display, with Sean Cavanagh leading the march.

Eugene McKenna and Art McRory were reinstalled as managers in 2001, which also saw the Seniors capture their ninth Ulster Championship, with many of the Under-21 team crossing over to the Senior ranks, including Stephen O'Neill, who won his first (and Tyrone's only) All Star that year.

Tyrone won their first ever Senior All-Ireland in 2002, albeit the 'second tier' competition, the National Football League.

The introduction of the qualifying system allowed Tyrone to reach the All-Ireland quarter finals in 2002, where they were beaten by Sligo. Despite not playing in the Sligo match, Peter Canavan won his fourth All Star award, making him Tyrone's most prolific representative.[1]


2003 saw the introduction of the new Tyrone Manager, Mickey Harte. Harte had already Tyrone and Ulster titles with his club, Errigal Ciaran, and with Tyrone at Minor and Under 21 level, but had not proved himself on the inter-county stage at Senior level. Also, the acrimonious departure of Art McRory and Eugene McKenna, his predecessors, and two popular figures in Tyrone football over the previous twenty years, made many fans suspicious of his appointment. He soon laid those fears to rest however, immediately defending Tyrone's National League crown.

Tyrone then went on to win the Ulster Championship, beating Down in a replay, but with a massive margin of victory. After leaking four goals in the drawn match, Harte put Cormac McAnallen into the Full Back position, from his normal position in midfield. It turned out to be a wry move, Tyrone's ruthlessness in shooting at the posts, was now consolidated with a steadiness in defence.

In the All-Ireland Quarter-final (the next fixture), they met their spirited neighbours, Fermanagh. Tyrone ultimately proved much too strong for them however, and again won by a massive margin.

Their biggest test in the Championship came against Kerry in the semi-final. This was the first time Tyrone had met Kerry in the Championship since the All-Ireland Final in 1986. Many pundits believe this was Tyrone's definitive display of 2003. They deployed a 'blanket defence,' whereby as soon as they lost possession of the ball, all players were ready to win it back. Kerry players, from the full-back line to the forwards, found themselves harried by three or four players around them every time they got the ball, meaning they were under pressure for space, and time to release the ball. Detractors (famously, Pat Spillane, himself a Kerry player from the 1986 final) called this style 'puke football' because it stifled the flow of the game of Gaelic football. It was extremely effective however, and the 0–13 to 0–6 scoreline that Tyrone won by was flattering for Kerry.

The final was against Armagh, the reigning Champions, and neighbouring rivals. This was the first time that two counties from Ulster had played in the All-Ireland Final, which was made possible by Armagh's progress through the 'back door' system. After an entertaining match, Tyrone emerged as All-Ireland Senior Football Championship winners for the first time in their history. It was an historic all northern final.

Peter Canavan's contribution to the game was marvelled throughout the country. He started the match, and was taken off before half time. During the break, and even some way into the second half, he was receiving treatment to his ankle, including having pain killing injections. Then, with seven minutes remaining, he was re-introduced by manager Mickey Harte, a shrewd, albeit necessary, move, considering Canavan was the only member of the team who had ever played in an All Ireland final before, in 1995.

Seven Tyrone players won All-Stars in 2003, Cormac McAnallen (which, along with his Young Player of the Year Award, would, tragically, turn out to be one of McAnallen's last honours as a Tyrone player – see below), Sean Cavanagh, Conor Gormley, Phillip Jordan, Brian Dooher, Brian McGuigan and Peter Canavan, winning his fifth All Star,[1] added the Player of the Year Award to his haul. Canavan amassed a total of 1–48 (51 points) over the course of the Championship.

Death of Cormac McAnallen[edit]

After the 2003 success, Canavan relinquished his captaincy, and Mickey Harte appointed 24-year-old Cormac McAnallen to be the captain, because of his attitude, and leadership skills. McAnallen had led the Minors, and Under-21s to All-Ireland glory, and was widely expected to do the same with the Senior panel.[7]

McAnallen died suddenly in his sleep on 2 March 2004, from an undetected heart condition. His untimely death deeply affected the Tyrone team and the world of Gaelic Games as a whole. Just weeks before his death, he had captained the Tyrone side that won the Dr. McKenna Cup after an overwhelming victory over Donegal at Ballybofey.[8][9]

Brian Dooher was appointed captain after this tragedy, but Tyrone's focus was disrupted severely by McAnallen's death. They reached the quarter-final of the 2004 Championship, where they were beaten by Mayo. This only was Mickey Harte's second Championship defeat as manager, after losing to Donegal in the Ulster Championship.[9]

Sean Cavanagh won his second All Star in a row in 2004.[1]

The Tyrone Minor team won their sixth All-Ireland Final.[9][10]


Tyrone underwent a mammoth run to their second All-Ireland crown in 2005, playing in some of the finest games in recent GAA history. They played an unprecedented ten matches before finally picking up the Sam Maguire Cup.

Tyrone quickly dispatched Down in the first round, 1–13 to 1–6, before drawing against Cavan. However, in the replay the scoreline was intimidating, with Tyrone winning 3–19 (28 points) to 0–7. In the hugely entertaining drawn Ulster Final, Tyrone were four points ahead of rivals Armagh with barely three minutes remaining, and had been on top throughout the match. However, Armagh's deadly marksman, Steven McDonnell scored a goal, and Oisín McConville scored an equalising point to send the match to a replay, on a scoreline of 0–14 for Tyrone, to Armagh's 2–8.
Stephen O'Neill got the Man of the Match award, after scoring ten points.

The replayed match was as entertaining as its predecessor in the first half, but two rash sendings off by the referee, of Peter Canavan (who had only came on the pitch as a substitute two minutes prior), and Stephen O'Neill (for a second yellow card) put Armagh in the driving seat. Armagh won the match by two points, 0–13 to 0–11.

Tyrone won their qualifying match against Monaghan with a ten-point margin (2–14 to 1–07), and played Dublin in the quarter-final.

In what is regarded as one of the greatest games of the year, if not of the decade, Tyrone and Dublin battled for a well-earned draw. The game is remembered for Eoin Mulligan's stunning solo-running goal (described by the television commentator as "one of the great goals we have seen at Croke Park") – effectively beating five Dublin players before hitting the net. The match ended 1–14 each.

In the replay, Tyrone emerged victorious, despite a battling effort from Dublin, 2–18 to 1–14.

Tyrone met Armagh for the third time in one championship. In a very stifled game, where both teams were effectively cancelling each other out, Tyrone had a free kick in injury time, which Peter Canavan opted to take. He scored, sending Tyrone to the All-Ireland Final against Kerry. This match is also considered one of the games of the decade – because of the tactical decisions each manager had to take to break the deadlock, and the respect both teams paid each other. The final score was 1–13 to 1–12

Tyrone defeated Kerry for the second time in three years to win the All-Ireland. Peter Canavan, in his swansong performance, scored Tyrone's winning goal. Canavan had been used mostly as an impact substitution through the latter stages of the Championship, but was started for the Final.
The win sparked hugely emotional scenes among the Tyrone team and fans, in remembrance of Cormac McAnallen. Upon being handed the trophy, captain, Brian Dooher spoke of how he knew Cormac was with him.

Tyrone's All Star haul was one of the biggest of any All-Ireland winning team since the awards were introduced, with eight. Ryan McMenamin and Eoin Mulligan both won their first, Conor Gormley, Phillip Jordan, Brian Dooher and Stephen O'Neill all won their second, with O'Neill also being awarded the player of the year award. Sean Cavanagh won his third All Star in a row, the first player to do since Peter Canavan in the nineties.

Tyrone exited the 2006 Football Championship after a poor display against Laois, on a wet Saturday night in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise. The Tyrone panel had been depleted by injury, with team captain Brian Dooher (shattered kneecap), inspirational play maker Brian McGuigan (broken leg) and midfielder Colin Holmes ruled out for the season, while other key players, including Stephen O'Neill, Gerard Cavlan and Conor Gormley, all missing most or all of the 2006 campaign due to injury.


The year 2007 can be view as a mediocre one for Tyrone. After a tough one point win over Fermanagh in the first round of the Ulster Championship, Tyrone then went on to give their best performance of 2007 by blitzing the National League Champions Donegal at St Tiernach's Park in Clones on a scoreline of 2–15 to 1–7. The highlight of this match was a 5-point haul by captain Brian Dooher in possibly his best performance in a Tyrone jersey. The final against Monaghan was a wonderful occasion as Clones played host once again to the Ulster Senior Football final after the 04,05,06 finals were at Croke Park in Dublin. The match itself was an up and down affair Tyrone raced into an early 1–5 to 0–1 lead their goal coming for left half back Phillip Jordan but Monaghan fought back to trail 1–8 to 0–7 at half time. The Second half then started much like the first with Tyrone extending their lead to 1–13 to 0–8, A Tomas Freeman goal spurred a Monaghan fight back with the score at 1–13 to 1–10 Sean Cavanagh opened up for Tyrone at wing half forward then scored a point to put 4 between the sides a Monagan free meant there was only a kick of a ball between the sides when Vincent Coreys shot was saved by keeper John Devine Tyrones Owen Mulligan then hit the post to set up a tense finish but the final score ended 1–15 to 1–13 to give Tyrone an eleventh Ulster Title a 3rd since the turn of the Century. In the All-Ireland Quarter final Tyrone lost out to a hungrier Meath team on a scoreline of Meath 1–13 Tyrone 2–8.

At Minor Level Tyrone claimed a 20th Ulster title but their opponents Derry can feel hard done by because one of Tyrones points was clearly wide, however the umpire signalled it as a score Tyrone won the game on a scoreline of 0–10 to 1–6


The 2008 season may have started slowly for Tyrone but it certainly ended with a bang.

After Tyrone appeared to be coasting in their Ulster opener against Down in Healy Park, being 7 points up at one stage thanks to Colm McCullagh and Sean Cavanagh goals, Down fought back to earn a deserved draw with the final score being 2–8 apiece. Their replay in Newry will go down as an Ulster Championship classic. Down appeared to be heading for the semi finals of the Ulster Championship, but a late scoring surge for Tryone (mostly Tommy McGuigan) got them back in it and a late free forced extra- time. Tyrone appeared to get their act together and good scores from McGuigan, McCullough and Cavanagh gave Tyrone a 4-point lead. But to Down's credit they brought it back to two then a fortunate goal from Benny Coulter saw Down advance in this classic by a single point on a scoreline of 1–19 to 0–21.

Tyrone had to pick themselves up for the Qualifiers in which they faced Louth at Drogheda. Louth only managed one score in the first half as Tyrone opened up a 10-point lead. To Louths credit they battled hard but at the end of the day there was a gulf in class Tyrone emerged 8-point winners final score was Tyrone 1–18 Louth 1–10 their goal coming from midfielder Enda McGinley.

In round two, Tyrone again faced Leinster opposition in the form of Westmeath Tyrone looked very comfortable[according to whom?] especially when Westmeath were reduced to 13 players; the final scoreline was Tyrone 0–14 Westmeath 1–7 Man the match Brian Dooher hit two points while Tommy McGuigan fined Tyrone's top-scorer with 6 points.

In the final round of Qualifiers, Tyrone faced beaten Connacht finalists Mayo in Croke Park on 2 August in a tight game it was Tyrone's hunger that shone through after opening up a 3-point lead. Mayo's Conor Mortimer finished a perfect team move to the back of the net Mayo led by a point a half time 1–5 to 0–7. Mayo took early control in the second half stretching their lead to 1–7 to 0–7 a missed Mortimer goal chance seem to be the turning point compiled with Mickey Harte bringing on the lively Martin Penrose and 'workhorse' Colin Holmes. Great points[according to whom?] from Penrose, Cavanagh and McCullough gave Tyrone a lead they went to lose again after a few late 'scares' Tyrone advanced to the quarter-finals by one point the final score was Tyrone 0–13 Mayo 1–9, Man of the match was Enda McGinleywho won some vital possessions from clean catches and break ball, he also set up Penrose for a score and even managed a point himself! In the quarter-finals Tyrone faced Dublin in a repeat of the 2005 clash. Tyrone made the brighter start to this game with early points from Tommy McGugian and Colm McCullagh, Dublin got back to level terms however Tyrone pulled away with 2 further points the pick from captain Brian Dooher and a goal from Sean Cavanagh gave them a comating 1–5 to 0–2 lead, a mix up in the Tyrone full back line lead to a soft Connall Keaney goal however Dublins celebrations were short lived and a beautiful angled ball from Tommy McGuigan gave Joe McMahon a goal opportunity which he took in style to put Tyrone 2–5 to 1–2 up, Dublin scored another point before half-time to leave them trailing by 5 at the break. On the restart Tyrone added 2 points with McCullagh and Dooher the scorers . A brief Dublin revival followed with back to back points, But Tyrone raced up the field with Colin Holmes giving the ball McCullagh who the picked out the running half back David Harte and he made no mistake with the finish giving Tyrone a 3rd goal an ending the game as a contest. Harte, Cavanagh and Dooher added points but Dublin looked like a beat team with 20 minutes to go. While no Tyrone player had a bad game the GAA man of the match award went to Brian Dooher who scored 3 points and also set up vital plays bringing the ball out of defence. Tyrone then faced Wexford for a place in the senior football final but earlier in the day it was the Tyrone minors who booked their place in the final with a complete football performance, and eased past Meath on a scoreline of 1–21 to 2–7. They face Mayo in the final. The seniors then always looked comfortable in their meeting with Wexford. And after racking up an 8-point lead at half-time they went through pretty comfortably with 6 points to spare, However Wexford did cause problems during 10 minutes of the second half to bring the gap down to two points, then scores from Phillip Jordan, Colm McCullagh and Ryan McMenamin made sure that Tyrone would set up a 21 September date with All Ireland champions Kerry (who beat Cork earlier in the day 3–14 to 2–13). Tyrone's Colm McCullagh was named the GAA Man of the match after setting up and indeed taking crucial scores at the right times. Stephen O'Neill has rejoined the Tyrone squad for the upcoming All Ireland final with Kerry. On 21 September. When the 21st came it was the dream final, Tyrone started off with a point from Colm McCullagh then Colm Cooper set the tone for the game with both sides going score for, however the most memorable point has to be an inspirational one from captain Brian Dooher that levelled the game for the red hand county. this ended the first half with Kerry leading 0–8 points to Tyrones 0–7. Then after Tyrone making one change at half time bringing on Kevin Hughes for Colin Holmes, Tyrone got the perfect start to the 2nd half with a toe poked goal from Tommy McGuigan but it was the two subs Stephen O'Neill and Kevin Hughes that combined to set it up. After this the game continued with both teams going score just as Colm "the gooch" Cooper put Kerry 0–14 to 1–10 up came the most unforgettable[according to whom?] ten minutes in Tyrone's gaa history. With the introduction of Brian McGuigan Tyrone fitness and hunger began to tell after winning a break ball at midfield Tommy McGuigan set up Sean Cavanagh for Tyrones equaliser. Soon after Tyrone won another break in midfield and this time it was another sub Eoin Mulligan who set up the superb[according to whom?] Sean Cavanagh to hit the score which put Tyrone 1 point ahead. There was time though for a heart-stopping moment in the Tyrone defence when Declan O'Sullivan was though on goal but after being a late call up to the squad due to the untimely death of 1st choice goalie John Devine's father, Pascal McConnell made a match-winning save to deny Kerry a goal. After this though Tyrone pulled away with the steadiest player on the team Enda McGinley scoring the clincher, straight after Tyrone's sub Kevin Hughes put real daylight between the sides, then after intercepting a kick-out Colm Cavanagh made sure that Sam Maguire would be in Tyrone for a third time in 6 Years. The final whistle then went and it confirmed that the 2008 championship was won by Tyrone. Brian Dooher made reference in his speech to the Tyrone goalkeeper John Devine as he could not play due to his father's death by saying "JD this is for you". At the team's victory banquet that night in the Citywest hotel Sean Cavanagh was named the GAA man of the match in which he scored 5 vital points and set up plays during the course of the game.


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  4. ^ Ryan, Seán (24 November 2012). "Tyrone and Canavan came up short in 'eyesore' final". Irish independent. 
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